Balance exercises for seniors are great for improving good posture. It will help you to feel stable in your body. And it will ensure that you can keep on with your daily activities as you grow older.
Falls are a common problem among seniors. It can have devastating consequences and even lead to premature nursing home admission. A Cochrane review found that exercise can help to prevent falls among seniors. Especially balance exercises. It is important to note that you want to challenge yourself and practice regularly for the balance exercises to be efficient.
Balance Exercises and Poses for Seniors
In this article you will find:
- different mobility exercises,
- strength-building exercises,
- and balancing postures.
All the exercises and postures are great if you are a senior trying to improve your balance. But before jumping into the practices, there are a few things to be mindful of:
- Wear comfortable clothes.
- Make sure you are standing on a non-slip surface. A decent yoga mat is great, but do make sure it is thin, about 1/8 inch. The thicker the mat, the harder it will be for you to find balance.
- Use a wall or chair for support. Even standing close to a wall is a great safety measurement. Don’t risk falling.
Balance postures and exercises strengthen your thighs, calves, and ankles. This gives your legs a great workout. Your abdominal muscles and spine are also very active. Balance training is a very effective exercise for your body. Strengthening, stretching, and training mobility.
Many of the postures and movements described here come from yoga. Yoga for seniors is a great way to improve balance, mobility, and well-being. Chair yoga for seniors can also be a great way to start out if you feel uncomfortable balancing.
Mountain Pose Posture Check
Before you start any of the balance exercises for seniors you want to check your posture. Mountain pose is great for this. By practicing this posture you will build body awareness. It may seem to be an easy pose but it is the foundation.
Place your feet hip-distance apart. Ground down through all three corners of your feet. The inner edge of your forefoot, the outer edge of your forefoot, and your heel. Distribute your weight evenly onto these three points. Use this technique in the grounded foot in all balancing postures.
Press down through both feet to activate your leg muscles. Hips are in line. Glutes (buttocks) slightly engaged. Pull your navel in toward your spine. Make sure you have a neutral tilt in your pelvis.
Roll your shoulder back and down to open your chest. Find a relaxed position with your shoulders.
Straighten your neck. For most people, this means tuck the chin in a little. But the sensation you want to feel is that the top of your head comes into line with your shoulders, hips, and feet.
If it feels comfortable you can open your palms to your front or you can have your palms facing your sides.
Balance & Mobility Exercises for Seniors
Mobility exercises can be both fun and challenging. They are great for bringing movement into the body. These exercises are all picked out for improving balance. Some of them in a very direct manner. Others by helping to bring awareness to the center of the body. If you become dizzy or lightheaded please stop the movement and sit down.
1. Mountain Pose Tiptoes to Heels
Stand in Mountain pose. On your inhale, raise both your heels and balance on your forefoot and toes. On you exhale, roll your feet down, lift your toes and find balance on your heels.
If you have trouble finding balance hold on to the back of a chair, a tabletop, or place your fingertips on a wall.
If you would like to challenge yourself even more. You can reach your arms up toward the ceiling on your inhale, and down on your exhale.
Repeat 10-20 times.
Tip: If you cannot find balance on your heels, just come down on your feet.
2. Marching in Place
Stand in Mountain pose. Ground down through your left foot. On your inhale, lift your right knee as high as you can. On your exhale, lower your right foot. Inhale to lift your left knee as high as you can. Exhale, to lower your left foot.
If you have trouble finding your balance. You can stand with your side to a wall or chair and place your fingertips on the wall or chair.
You can advance the pose by bringing in an element of coordination. Lift your arms out to the sides on your inhale, release them on your exhale.
Repeat 10-20 times.
3. Heel-To-Toe Walk
Stand tall. Extend your arms out to the sides in a T-shape. Place your right foot in front of your left foot. Right heel to the toes of your left foot. Then left foot in front of your right. Again left heel to the toes of your right. Keep walking for 20 steps.
Tip: If you look at your feet the movement will become easier. If you fix your gaze forward and imagine walking straight, it will challenge your balance more. Also, if you place your hands on your hips it will be more challenging.
4. Standing Half-Circles
Stand in Mountain pose. Extend your arms to the sides in a T-shape. Rotate your torso and head to the right, back to center, then to the left. Keep moving for about a minute.
5. Standing Pelvic Circles
Stand in Mountain pose. Place your hands on your hips. Draw circles with your hips. Inhale to bring the hips forward. Exhale when you circle backward. Move slow and try to make the circles as big as possible. Repeat a couple of times. Draw circles the opposite way.
Strength-Building Balance Exercises for Seniors
These three exercises are simple to do. They do not require a lot of time and you can do them anywhere. Remember if you have trouble balancing make sure to use a wall, tabletop, or chair. If you want to challenge yourself, try closing your eyes.
6. One Leg Raised
This is a great exercise for building strength in your quadriceps (front thighs) and hip flexor. It also stretches and strengthens your hamstrings and calves.
Stand in Mountain pose. Ground down through your left foot. Place your hands on your hips. Lift your right foot and extend your leg. Flex your right foot. Make sure to engage your core. Pull your navel a little in and up. Relax your shoulders. Lift the right foot as high as possible while keeping the leg straight.
Be mindful of your hips – keep them aligned. Remember good alignment is key, how high the leg comes is less important.
Stay for a couple of breaths. You can repeat as many times as you’d like by doing sets of 5-10. Afterward, repeat on the opposite side and make sure to do the same amount of repetitions.
7. One Leg Backlift
This exercise strengthens your low back, hamstrings, and glutes.
Stand in Mountain pose. Ground down through your left foot. Place your hands on your hips. Lift your right foot and extend your leg backward. Point the toes of your right foot back. Relax your shoulders. Lift the right foot as high as possible while keeping the leg straight. Make sure to stay centered. Both your shoulders and hips in line.
Hold for a couple of breaths. Repeat 5-10 times and change to the opposite side.
8. One Leg Side-Lift
This exercise strengthens your low back, glutes, thigh, and calf muscles.
Stand in Mountain pose. Ground down through your left foot. Place your hands on your hips. Lift your right foot out to the side. Flex your right foot. Relax your shoulders. Lift the right foot as high as possible while keeping your core engaged. Make sure to stay centered. Both your shoulders and hips in line.
Stay for a couple of breaths. You can repeat 5-10 times. Then change side.
Balance Poses for Stretching
The focus of these poses is to build balance. This will strengthen your leg and core muscles. At the same time, you will get a nice stretch in your leg muscles.
You can stand with your back close to a wall. Make sure there is some room between your back and the wall, as you still want the balancing challenge. You can also use your hand to grab onto the wall/a chair. Try touching with only your fingertips, to keep challenging your balance.
9. Standing Leg Stretch
This pose stretches the hamstrings and the calves. At the same time, it requires a focus on balance and alignment.
Stand tall. Place a yoga strap around your right foot and keep the strap in your right hand. Ground down through your left foot. Place your left hand on your hip for balance. Bend your right knee and lift the leg off the ground.
When you feel stable, slowly straighten the leg out. Pull lightly in the strap to stretch your hamstring. Relax in your shoulders and keep them down. Engage your core to keep you balanced. Stay for a couple of breaths. Then change side.
10. Standing One Knee to Chest
This pose helps to both strengthen and stretch the glutes (buttocks).
Stand in Mountain pose. Ground down through your left foot. Bend your right leg and lift your knee toward your chest. Lock your fingers around your shin and press your leg into your abdomen and chest. Make sure to relax your shoulders down. On your inhale, loosen your grip. On your exhale, press the thigh into your chest. Keep to this rhythm for a couple of breaths.
11. Flamingo Pose
Flamingo pose stretches your hip flexor and quadriceps (front thigh). It also opens your shoulders.
Stand in Mountain pose. Ground down through your left foot. Bend your right leg and lift your right heel toward your glute (buttocks). Reach back with your right hand and grab your foot. Press your foot toward your glute. Stay for a couple of breaths and do it on the opposite side.
Advanced Balance Poses for Seniors
These two poses are great balancing postures. Both poses require a fair amount of coordination and body awareness. All while balancing. Have fun with them.
12. Tree Pose
Tree pose is a great balancing pose. It stretches your adductors (inner thigh), chest, and shoulders. Improves your sense of balance and coordination, and hip mobility. One of its greatest effects, and a point of focus while holding the pose, is stabilizing the pelvis.
Stand tall. Place your right heel on your left ankle/calf/inner thigh depending on what feels right in your body. Do not place your foot on your knee. Press the right heel into the left ankle/calf/inner thigh with the toes pointing down toward the floor.
If you place your foot on your calf or thigh, press the standing leg into the foot with as much force as you are pressing the foot into the standing leg. Open your right knee out to the side. Rest the hands on your hips for a moment to make sure that the pelvis is in a neutral position. Engage your core and find length in your spine. From here you can keep your hands on your hips, let palms meet in front of your heart, or reach them toward the sky.
Remember to breathe. Stay for a couple of breaths and do it on the opposite side.
Tip: You can stand with your back against a wall or use your hand to grab onto the wall/ a chair for balance.
13. One-Legged Revolved Mountain Pose
This is a great pose to strengthen your knees, hips, and shoulders. It also helps to open your upper back and of course, challenges your balance.
Stand tall. Reach your arms out to the sides in a T-shape. Ground down through your left foot. Lift your right leg, while bending your right knee. On your inhale, grow as tall as you can. On your exhale, twist your torso to the right. You can either find a point on the floor and fix your gaze on it to help you balance, or you can look toward your right hand. This will challenge your balance even more.
Stay for a couple of breaths. You can use your inhales to find more length and exhales to twist deeper. When releasing the pose bring your torso back to center. Exhale, and lower your leg. Repeat on the opposite side.
Summary and Further Reading
Balance exercises for seniors can be seen as a means of not only staying active but staying safe. Falls are a serious problem most older adults will inevitably encounter. The “use it or lose it” saying holds here as well. If you do not actively practice balancing you run the risk of losing the balance you have always taken for granted. When in doubt on your health, always check with your physician first.
If you would like to read more on this subject, consider the following books:
- Balance Exercises for Fall Prevention: A seniors’ home-based exercise plan by Amanda Sterczyk
- 6-Minute Fitness at 60+: Simple Home Exercises to Reclaim Strength, Balance, and Energy in 15 Days by Jonathan Su
- 5-Minute Core Exercises for Seniors: Daily Routines to Build Balance and Boost Confidence by Cindy Brehse and Tami Brehse Dzenitis
- Strength Training for Seniors: Increase Your Balance, Stability, and Stamina to Rewind the Aging Process by Paige Waehner
- Stretching to Stay Young: Simple Workouts to Keep You Flexible, Energized, and Pain Free by Jessica Matthews
About the Author:
Shasmina is a yoga and meditation teacher. She has a Master’s of Social Sciences in Philosophy and Social Science and is the owner of Mærk Efter, where she guides students in the teachings of yoga both individually and in group classes. Visit her LinkedIn page.